Do-it-yourself Vietnamese prawn summer rolls


Now this is the kind of thirty-minute meal even foodies-like-us will love.  Fresh ingredients, nothing pre-cut or pre-cooked, but still you can put it together in less than 30 minutes, ok, 45 with not-so-fast  knife skills.  The ingredients are not all that exotic either: if you can find fish sauce and lemongrass at your local market you’re all set.

As we’re getting deeper into the summer season, I’m always craving something light and refreshing.  This Vietnamese wrap dinner I put together the other day fits the bill perfectly.  And no, Adam, you don’t need an outdoor grill to make this dish.  I grilled my prawn “kebobs” right there on a ridge pan on my kitchen range. It works just as well for this.  It’s also a pretty low-stress dish, you don’t even need to bother rolling each one before serving.  Just put
everything on a big platter and set out some dry rice paper with a bowl
of warm or tepid water.  Your guests can roll their own as they eat.
It’s more fun that way anyway.


I didn’t even start out with a recipe, so I’m not even sure if I should write this as one.  It’s really so much simpler than that.  I guess I’ll just talk you through it, it really is that simple.

So, the basic ingredients are some prawns, use a good size one because if the tiny ones are just too annoying to peel.  The prawn marinade consists of lemongrass, garlic, cilantro roots, a bit of oyster sauce (if you had it, a sprinkle of brown sugar if not), and fish sauce.  You’ll need one or two medium carrots, and some daikon radish (if you can find it), and you’ll also need a bit of rice vinegar (white wine vinegar will do in a pinch) and sugar to “pickle” them.  Any nice and crunchy veggies you’d like to add to your roll, I usually add some cucumber slices, and definitely a bunch of nice lettuce.  You’ll also need some basil–Thai basil will be nice but regular basil will be just fine too–and some mint, perhaps also cilantro.  You’ll need vietnamese rice paper of course, it won’t be a vietnamese wrap dinner with them, so hopefully you could find them at your local Chinese store.  Get some rice vermicelli too while you’re at all, I like to bulk up my rolls with them, but then again not everyone is a carb-lover like me so perhaps it’s not so essential.  For the sauce I use peanut butter mixed with Thai roasted chili paste–completely inauthentic of course but I love it and I think it adds a nice zing to the sauce.  Some sambal to be added at table so each person can make it as hot as they want.  Don’t forget a bottle or two of good rieslings to wash everything down properly.

I’d start with the quick “pickled” carrots and daikon.  Take about two medium carrots and perhaps a daikon radish too if you can find it.  Use a box grater to cut them into thin ribbons, about and inch or two long.  Put a cup or so of rice vinegar in a small pot, add to it about half a cup of sugar and heat up just until the sugar is melted.  Pour the mixture over the carrot and daikon ribbons and just let them macerate while you attend to other things in the recipe.  By the time everything is done your “pickles” will be ready.

Then you move on to the prawns.  Depends on how much your friends or family like prawns, but about two pounds should feed about for people for dinner, I’d say.  Make a marinade with some lemongrass–use only the bottom two inches on a stalk, peel out one or two outer, tough layers, and chop finely.  You’ll need about 3-4 tablespoons of chopped lemongrass.  Pound that with four cloves of garlic, a few turns of pepper, about 1-2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro roots or stems.  If you add a handful of rough salt in the mortar, you’ll have an easier time working everything into a fine paste.  (You can easily do this in a small food processor if you’re not up for elbow grease.)  Once everything comes together into a paste, transfer it into a large bowl, add about 1-2 tablespoon of oyster sauce, about 3-4 spoonfuls of fish sauce.  Taste it and see if you like the taste, add more fish sauce or oyster sauce if you think it needs it.  I’ll also add about 2-3 tablespoons of cooking oil just to make sure everything sticks to the prawns nicely.  Mix everything well and then throw in all the prawns, shells and heads and all, and toss them around to coat well with the paste.  I sometimes clean the prawns by cutting the shell through the back of the prawns (using a kitchen shear) and pull out the black vein inside before tossing into the marinade, but when I’m lazy I just don’t.  It’s not as pretty but it won’t kill you either.  Let the prawns marinate while you put other stuff together.

If you’re really short on time, you can skip this marinating business altogether.  Just make sure you sprinkle them with some salt and pepper when you grill them.  They’ll be perfectly fine.

My sauce is super simple, I just mix some peanut butter with a bit of my homemade roasted chili paste–your store-bought one will be just fine.  The roasted chili paste is a little garlicky, a little sour, a little salty, and a little spicy–just perfect for adding a bit of complexity to the peanut sauce.  Depends on how sticky your brand of peanut sauce is you might want to thin it out a little with some water.  I also put a bowl of sambal out so that each person at the dinner table can add just as much or as little to their own bowl as they like.

Set a big platter out and put the lettuce, cucumber, basil, mints, cilantro, and pretty much any other veggies you’d like in your wrap on it.  Make sure you cut them into easily-wrapable size, by the way.  If you’d like a bit more carb, cook a little bit of rice vermicelli and put them out on the platter as well.

You’re almost there.  Now you just need to grill up the prawns.  I don’t bother with a real outdoor barbeque for this.  I just use a ridge cast iron pan right there on my stove top.  You can throw the prawns loose in the pan, but the easier way to do it is to put five or six prawns on two sticks into prawn kebobs.  Flipping these kebobs on the grill is much easier than trying to flip each prawn one at a time.  The prawns should only take a couple of minutes on each side.  When they are done, set them out on a platter on the middle of the table.  The last thing that you need to do is to drain the “pickles”.  Pour out the vinegar from the carrot and diakon ribbons and put them on the same platter as the veggies.

Set out a couple of big bowls filled with warm water on the table next to the dried rice paper and you’re ready to serve.  Give each of your dinner guest their own little bowl of peanut sauce so they could add as much or as little sambal as they want.  Each person can take a dried rice paper, soften it for a minute in the warm water, then make their own wrap with the grilled prawns, veggies, and herbs.  Roll it into a big wrap and dip it into their tailored peanut sauce.  Wash the whole thing down with a bottle or two of good Riesling, for the table, not for each diner.

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20 Responses to “Do-it-yourself Vietnamese prawn summer rolls

  • Casey said:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 7:31am

    Sounds delicious and fun. Perfect for my I’m-not-eating-any-meat daughters. You sure we can’t each have a bottle of Riesling?

  • Michael Bennett said:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 8:35am

    A little vietnamese trick for the sauce for banh cuong is to use hoi sin mixed in with the dip it makes it a little sweet and a little bbq, you need to cook it up though and make a batch of it with your peanut/satay and some chilli.
    The vietnamese herbs really make the taste explosion, rip ga/perilla/purple shiso are fantastic in there too, japanese or thai shops will sell them.
    Ngon Lam!

  • Kalyn said:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 9:04am

    What a fun post. This is something I love to order at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Salt Lake.

  • AuCo said:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 10:48am

    shredded green papaya or mango with the prawn, steamed fish, rice vermicelli, and herbs is another really great combination for these rolls. my mom makes it when we’re too lazy to make a full on dinner.
    Crushed pineapple in lime-thinned sukiyaki sauce is the dip we use for that roll.
    otherwise chunky peanutbutter and hoisin blend is a simple dip commonly used.

  • Helen said:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 11:10am

    Yum. Simple and refreshing – perfect summer food as you say. I love doing platters like this when I have friends over and everyone can dig in and share. Eating with your hands is great too I think when you have a crowd over. So much more relaxed. I always keep some rice wrappers in the freezer for exactly this sort of thing.

  • Meena said:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 2:00pm

    I love thi Pim! We usually make them when we’re grilling shrimps and Satay on the BBQ. It’s perfect for an impromtu dinner with close friends!

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js said:
    July 23rd, 2008 at 10:10pm

    I’m always craving Vietnamese when it’s hot out. I love the simplicity of it, like here. It’s probably closer to 45 minutes for me, with zero knife skills.

  • daphne said:
    July 24th, 2008 at 1:21am

    That’s a lovely to-share meal as well! Great idea for friends coming over for dinners.

  • david said:
    July 24th, 2008 at 3:55am

    Can’t you just buy those?
    ; )

  • Adam said:
    July 24th, 2008 at 7:46am

    Pim— how surreal! I was reading this and then I saw my name and it was like that scene in “The Purple Rose of Cairo” when Jeff Bridges starts talking to Mia Farrow from the movie screen. In any case, this looks mighty tasty–now all I need is a grill pan! Adam

  • Kathy Casey said:
    July 24th, 2008 at 11:37am

    I LOVE quick, easy meals that will appeal to everyone. And serving it family style? Genius. Thanks!

  • sunny said:
    July 24th, 2008 at 4:00pm

    looks good, as usual:-)

  • Michelle said:
    July 24th, 2008 at 7:01pm

    Agreed it’s the perfect summer food. Is there a recipe for your homemade chili sauce lurking around here somewhere? 🙂

  • matt k. said:
    July 25th, 2008 at 9:54am

    very nice! my family makes this (though we koreanize it a bit) all the time.

  • social said:
    July 25th, 2008 at 9:59am

    looks very delicious!!!

    • said:
      August 18th, 2011 at 7:42pm

      Yeah, looks delicious!

  • Julia said:
    July 26th, 2008 at 1:00am

    Wonderful blog… I like it! It’s perfect to work my English 🙂

  • White On Rice Couple said:
    July 27th, 2008 at 4:35pm

    Looks good Pim, I’ve got cravings again. We just taught another spring/summer roll class the other day and everyone just has a blast rolling their own rolls. Now I just need to have my school administrators approve my appeal to serve my favorite Spatlese to the students and I’ve got a party just like yours.
    At our parties, we will have the portable butane stoves on the table, all topped with grill tops. Everyone gets to grill their own meats and they do all their own cooking. When my guests walk in the door I tell them that they have to cook their own dinner,I’m sitting back to relax!

  • syrie said:
    July 28th, 2008 at 9:10pm

    Looks fabulous!

  • Andre said:
    January 2nd, 2011 at 8:28am

    It sounds so delicious!! But does each diner has to peel the shrimp at the table? Or do you eat the whole thing??

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